Historically Black college aims to become second institution for veterinary training. The significance of this milestone.

When Kaila Tyree-Castro was 13 years old, her pet geckos fell ill. The closest veterinary clinic was an hour away from her residence in Bowie, Maryland, and she couldn’t secure an appointment for two weeks.

Tyree-Castro, who is now 19 years old, felt powerless as she witnessed her lizards deteriorate and eventually pass away.

This incident spurred her desire to pursue a career as a veterinarian. Currently, as a first-generation college student at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, she aspires to enroll in the first class of the university’s forthcoming veterinary school.

Recently, UMES obtained state approval to establish a school of veterinary medicine, marking only the second Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in the nation to do so. Tuskegee University in Alabama hosts the only other veterinary school within the HBCU community, and the entire United States has under three dozen veterinary programs.

“I have ambitious aspirations, and if I am accepted and can continue my education here, I would be overjoyed,” Tyree-Castro expressed enthusiastically.

In an optimistic scenario, UMES’ new veterinary school is expected to achieve accreditation by 2025, with approximately 100 graduate students beginning classes a year later, according to Moses Kairo, the dean of the university’s agricultural and natural sciences department.

Kairo emphasized that UMES’ veterinary school is poised to revolutionize the field and address multiple voids, especially given that only 3% of the veterinary workforce comprises Black individuals.

“We are optimistic that our new school will pave the way for numerous opportunities in an underprivileged domain,” Kairo remarked.

A research by Mars Veterinary Health in August 2023 highlighted the need for approximately 55,000 more veterinarians by 2030 to address pet healthcare needs in the U.S. The study also stressed the importance of enhancing the talent pipeline and career pathways.

“The crux is that we require more veterinarians from all backgrounds,” emphasized Stacy Pursell, an animal health industry recruiter and CEO of VET Recruiter. “The issue goes beyond race as veterinary schools have limited spaces and turn away numerous aspiring students.”

Benefiting from Urban Proximity

UMES’ setting in Princess Anne, Maryland, nearly 90 miles south of Washington, D.C., is anticipated to attract potential veterinary students from nearby urban areas such as Baltimore, Philadelphia, several major cities in Virginia, and even New York City, according to Dr. Niccole Bruno, founder of BLEND, a veterinary hospital certification program focusing on inclusivity in Houston.

Bruno, originally from Queens, New York, emphasized the significance of a vet school’s proximity to a major city in boosting visibility and increasing the likelihood of diverse student enrollment.

“This could serve as a valuable pathway to nurture and promote interest among aspiring students,” Bruno elaborated.

Former HBCU alumni Debt-freeA group of Morehouse College graduates recently had their nearly $10 million debt to the institution forgiven

With over 25 years of experience placing “thousands of vets” nationwide, Pursell highlighted a trend spanning a decade of a growing number of veterinarians originating from urban areas alongside the traditional rural regions.

“Hence, we can expect a surge in veterinarians from diverse backgrounds,” Pursell anticipated. “I sincerely hope so.”

Pet Ownership Surge Amidst the Pandemic

The escalating demand for veterinarians corresponds to the increasing number of pet owners in the U.S.

As per the American Pet Products Association, approximately 70% of American households possess a pet, up from 56% in 1988. Moreover, roughly 23 million American households, representing about 1 in 5, adopted a pet during the initial year of the COVID-19 pandemic, based on a survey by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

University of Maryland Eastern Shore pre-vet student Donovan Grady Jr. observing his classmate, Kaila Tyre-Castro, holding a goat on the campus's farm. The historically Black institution is developing a vet school on campus.

These statistics align with a recent Pew Research Center survey indicating that over half of Americans own a pet, with about one-third having multiple pets. The survey also revealed that a majority of U.S. pet owners consider their pets as integral family members. The Pew survey reported pet ownership rates of around 68% among white adults and 66% among Hispanic adults, in contrast to 37% of Asian and 34% of Black adults.

In the viewpoint of Americans, pets hold significant familial importance, with some considering them a decisive factor in real estate decisions,” Jessica Lautz, the vice president of demographics and behavioral insights for the National Association of Realtors, emphasized.

“Access to veterinary services and substantial outdoor environments for pets are essential for prospective homebuyers with pets,” Lautz highlighted.

There are about 124,000 licensed veterinarians in the U.S., yet only around 95,000 are currently practicing due to retirements among the “Baby Boomer” veterinarians. The Mars study projected an annual 3% to 4% rise in pet healthcare service expenditures above inflation over the next 8 to 10 years.

“More millennials and Gen Z(ers) are pet owners, desiring similar healthcare standards for their pets as for themselves,” noted Mark Cushing, author of the book “Pet Nation: The Inside Story of How Companion Animals Are Transforming Our Homes, Culture, and Economy.” Nevertheless, the supply of veterinarians falls short of the burgeoning demand,” he cautioned.

Seizing the Opportunity

The upsurge in pet ownership alongside the expected 19% growth in the veterinary domain over the subsequent six years validates UMES’ decision to establish a veterinary school, as stated by Kairo.

“The establishment of very few veterinary schools creates ample room for growth,” Kairo asserted. “We believe our timing is optimal.”

Moses Kairo, the dean of agricultural and natural sciences at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, aims to have a new veterinary school operational on campus by 2026. This will make UMES the second historically Black institution, alongside Tuskegee University, with a veterinary offering.

The UMES Department of Agriculture, Food, and Resource Sciences currently runs a pre-veterinary program graduating an average of five to seven students annually.

Donovan Grady, Jr., a junior majoring in pre-vet from Mardela Springs, Maryland, eagerly anticipates enrollment in the graduate program post his college degree completion, with a special affinity for nurturing goats and other small animals on the school’s farm. After securing his veterinary license, Grady envisions returning to his alma mater to impart knowledge and facilitate others’ paths. “I aspire to give back and streamline opportunities for future students,” he stated.

The forthcoming veterinary school announcement at Maryland Eastern Shore comes on the heels of a $60-million fundraising campaign unveiled by the university approximately three months ago. The funds raised – the most extensive financial drive in the institution’s nearly 140-year history – aim to facilitate the construction of a dedicated veterinary school building, as outlined by Dr. Kimberly Braxton, an associate professor at UMES.

Beyond constructing a new facility, the allocated funds will enhance UMES’ veterinary amenities, notably the farm housing small ruminant animals such as sheep, goats, and a chicken coop.

UMES remains sanguine about procuring substantial funds akin to fellow HBCU institution Spelman College in Atlanta, which recently received a monumental $100 million donation from businesswoman and philanthropist Ronda Stryker, alongside her husband William Johnston, chairman of Greenleaf Trust.

“Though it’s a daunting task,” acknowledged Braxton regarding UMES’ financial ambitions, “it represents a fruitful endeavor.”

Setting High Expectations

A UMES alum and practicing veterinarian, Dr. Braxton was appointed the interim founding dean of the veterinary school. She highlighted ongoing conversations spanning six years regarding the establishment of a new veterinary school.

Initially contemplating a vet technology program, Braxton revealed that UMES President Heidi Anderson encouraged aiming higher. “She urged us to dream big, envisioning a bold mission for Maryland and HBCUs,” Braxton disclosed.

Dr. Kimberly Braxton, the interim founding dean at the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore's vet school, discusses goats being born on the campus's farm with students.

Numerous current pre-vet students at UMES had never encountered a Black veterinarian until they engaged with Braxton. Some students were pleasantly surprised by a visit from Dr. Vernard Hodges, featured on Nat Geo TV’s “Critter Fixers: Country Vets,” last year. “Their reactions deeply touched me,” Braxton shared. “That’s why I’m committed to enhancing this program further.”

Anderson’s endorsement signifies that the UMES School of Veterinary Medicine will address a prevalent need within communities, not only in Maryland but beyond,” Braxton affirmed.

The timelines are crucial to help UMES tackle the overarching veterinarian shortage nationally, according to Cushing, an attorney based in Scottsdale, Arizona, whose firm, Animal Policy Group, is assisting UMES with the vet school’s accreditation.

The UMES veterinary school will introduce a practical, accelerated three-year program reminiscent of the University of Arizona’s approach, Kairo confirmed. “While maintaining a robust curriculum akin to conventional four-year institutions, our program will be active year-round to fulfill academic requisites,” he explained.

University of Maryland Eastern Shore pre-vet student Olivia Ludolph aspires to attend the vet school at UMES, with classes projected to commence in the fall of 2026, to stay connected with her UMES and extended families on campus.

Expressing unwavering commitment to attending UMES for graduate studies, Olivia Ludolph, a junior pre-vet student, affirmed readiness to delay her academic progression if required. The 20-year-old Baltimore native aims to specialize in livestock and large animals, areas the vet school endeavors to encompass. “I feel closely bonded to my caring and supportive campus family. I desire to contribute to something exceptional by being part of the (vet) program,” Ludolph declared.

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